Genesis 36 is one of those chapters that makes you wonder why it made it into the Bible. It contains the geneology of Esau, the eldest son of Jacob who made two foolish decisions exchanging his birthright and blessing for short term gratification. There are a bunch of names which mean nothing to us and about whom we can learn very little. They lived and died almost 4,000 years ago, linked together with the common thread of being Esau’s descendants. It’s like reading a telephone book in a foreign language. But God put it in the Bible for a reason.
Another mistake Esau made was the selection of his wives, in direct violation of what his parents told him to do. But that is past history and we learn the outcome of all that in this chapter. He had loads of kids and descendents. We also learn “Esau took his wives, his sons, his daughters, and all the members of his household, his livestock, all his beasts, and all his property that he had acquired in the land of Canaan. He went into a land away from his brother Jacob. For their possessions were too great for them to dwell together….Esau settled in the hill country of Seir”.
Even though he messed up, God made a promise to give him his own identity, nation, and family history (17:5-7). God is a faithful God that can be trusted to keep His promises. However we learn a principle here which is that a beautiful and successful family by the world’s standards does not equal a family blessed by God. Esau took his wives from the Canaanites, even though marriage to the Canaanites was strictly forbidden. A man’s choice in marriage showcases his values and is almost always one of the key determining factors in the outcome of his own life. In my case, I married far up from my place and it has bode well for me.
There is no indication that Esau raised his family to know the Lord. In this chapter, there are 81 names listed, yet only two names hint at a belief in the true God: “Reuel” (36:4,10), Esau’s son by Basemath, means “friend of God”; “Jeush” (36:5, 14), Oholibamah’s son, means “the Lord helps.” Esau, the grandson of the godly Abraham, the favorite son of peaceful Isaac, was a successful man whose sons and grandsons after him were successful men, by worldly standards. But they all failed at what matters most because they left God out of their lives. He had every opportunity to be one of God’s favorite sons but made poor choices and missed the outcome that was his for the taking!
Genesis 35 has Jacob hearing from God numerous times. God first instructs him to go up to Bethel and dwell. This is the place where he fled from his brother Esau. Jacob told his people to “put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments”. He was leading them to Bethel to have a time of worship with God “so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone”.
Jacob collected all the idols and rings that were in their ears and hid them. Remember that Jacob’s boys had killed all the men in the city of Hamor and Shechem so they weren’t really popular in the area. But God was ready for that. “As they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob”. God has a plan and protects His people as they journey to the land He was giving them. Along the route God does another name change. “God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel”.
And with than name change came the command to “be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body”. Israel got an early start on that direction. Rachel was already pregnant with his twelfth son – Benjamin. “When they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor….Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath”. So along the route to Bethel, Jacob loses his first love. But that doesn’t stop him – “Israel journeyed on”. Obedience is not disrupted by hard times. We must carry on.
Israel now has his quiver full. He has twelve sons – six from Leah, two from Rachel, two from Bilhah and two from Zilpah. And as they traveled they came to Mamre where his father Isaac was. He was there for the end of his dad’s life. “The days of Isaac were 180 years. And Isaac breathed his last, and he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him”. Isaac probably didn’t see the restoration of the relationship between his sons, but surely he heard about it. And he was able to go to his grave knowing they were once again acting like brothers
Genesis 34 has Shechem a Hivite, seizing Dinah who was daughter of Jacob and Leah, and lying with her. He is in love with her and wants her as his wife. He asks his father Hamor to go to Jacob and make that happen. Word of this transgression spread quickly, first to Jacob and then to Dinah’s brothers. It didn’t sit well “he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done”. Hamor does come to make the request for marriage as his son had asked.
Hamor’s request is sweeping, not just for Dinah but to live peaceably and to intermarry and dwell together. Shechem went even farther asking that he be received and pay any price for Dinah to be his wife. “Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. Ask me for as great a bride price and gift as you will, and I will give whatever you say to me. Only give me the young woman to be my wife”. He obviously is love struck but unfortunately didn’t do things quite in the right order.
So Jacob’s boys listened to the requests and put together a deceitful plan. “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we agree with you – that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised”. They intend to have every male in the land be circumcised, not so they can meet the request of Hamor and Shechem, but so they can put them in a disadvantaged state and be able to get revenge. Ingenious plan with a poor motive. But Hamor and Shechem were strong leaders and “all who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised”.
So the impact of the circumcision is pretty severe and on the third day, when all the men were sore and unfit for battle, Dinah’s brothers Simeon and Levi took their swords and got revenge. “The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered”. They didn’t just kill Shechem, but all the men of the city, and they took all that was there for themselves. Jacob wasn’t enamored as he knows it will stir up trouble and he may have a battle on his hands, but the boys were not listening.
Genesis 33 has the showdown between two brothers. Jacob is coming home, and knows that brother Esau is on his way to meet him with 400 of his men in tow. Jacob is petrified of what might happen. “Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming”. I can only imagine what is running through Jacob’s mind. Is this the end? Will today be my last day? So Jacob “divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants. And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all”.
No question here on who was going to be sacrificed first. If you want to see what someone’s true priorities are, see how they line up their people. Who is at the front, and who is bringing up the rear. Jacob was obviously focused most of all on his heritage as Rachel and Joseph were bringing up the rear. Jacob went ahead of them all bowing himself seven times until he came near to his brother. “Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept”.
It was not the greeting Jacob had feared at all. Esau welcomes him and then asks about the entourage with Jacob. And one by one they come and meet this older brother of Jacob. They argue about the gifts that Jacob wanted to bestow on Esau. Jacob told him “….if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me”. Esau finally agrees to receive them.
Esau wants Jacob and his people and flocks to move on with him and his men. But Jacob doesn’t want to push things – the children were small and the flocks frail. So he convinces Esau to go on ahead and return home, and he will bring his entourage as time allows. Jacob buys some land for one hundred pieces of money and built an altar there. His day turns out very differently than he had imagined. God is good like that. He often takes what might have been a bad situation and turns it to good. We just need to trust Him!
Genesis 32 has Jacob moving on to a new threat, at least in his mind, his brother Esau. He hadn’t left on great terms with Esau having stolen his birthright and his blessing. And now, as he fled Laban and headed back home, he knows he will run into Esau who has been there since his departure. So “Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him”. The good news is that Jacob was again not going to have to face this situation alone. And God makes that clear by sending angels to meet him. But Jacob takes it into his own hands anyway.
“Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau”. He isn’t going to hit him cold, but wants to try and warm things up a bit. He tells his servants to say “I have sojourned with Laban and stayed until now. I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants. I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight”. He is going to try and win him over with gifts, lots of gifts. The servants return and tell him “he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him”. This is no trivial welcoming party. Esau is on his way with a bunch of his men.
“Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed”. Not much trust in the angels that God had sent his way. So Jacob “divided the people….into two camps”. He’s going to try and outsmart his brother, which he has successfully done twice before. At least if he attacks one camp, the other will be spared. Then ne finally gets around to praying. No mention of God til this point as he cries out “please deliver me….for I fear him, that he may come and attack me”. Jacob sets up camp there but “took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had”. A bit more trickery just in case things went bad.
Then something amazing happened as “Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him”. But even that did not stop Jacob. He hands on and says “I will not let you go unless you bless me”. Jacob has certainly learned the power of a blessing. So he holds on and the ‘man’ finally says “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” and he blessed him.
Genesis 31 has Jacob getting nervous. “Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth”. The rumor mill was flying, and “Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before”. He’s been there serving Laban for 20 years by now, and yet it doesn’t seem he has been able to create his own destiny. “The Lord said to Jacob, Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you”. Time to pack up and get out of town. So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was.
He tells them “You know that I have served your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times”. While these two women – Jacob’s wives – may not have gotten along very well much of the time he was smart enough to know that when it was him against their father he needed to communicate very well. So he carefully tells the story and what God has told him to do. They agree and tell him “now then, whatever God has said to you, do”. That had to be a relief. So “Jacob tricked Laban the Aramean, by not telling him that he intended to flee”.
They take off and get a three day head start before Laban figures out what has happened. Laban and his boys take off to catch Jacob. As he does, he asks “Why did you flee secretly and trick me, and did not tell me, so that I might have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre”? That wasn’t really what he had intended to ask, but God had appeared to him in a dream and told him to leave Jacob alone. Jacob tells his side of the story – this time to Laban. “These twenty years I have been in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times”. And Jacob knows that “God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night”. He knows he is walking in God’s protection.
So Laban figures out that if he can’t beat Jacob, he should join him. “The Lord watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight”. They decide to form a covenant together, and put up a pillar to signify the spot. “This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm”. It was a dividing line of sorts, and created the foundation for them to live peaceably together. They agree on the future and how to live together. “Early in the morning Laban arose and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned home”.
Genesis 30 is a chapter that consists of a race by two women to get the attention of their shared husband Jacob. Rachel begins by confronting Jacob about her barrenness. She says “Give me children, or I shall die”. That seems a bit dramatic, but it certainly got his attention. It seems that she felt it was necessary to try and keep up with Leah, who had bore four sons by now, so she asks her servant Bilhah to sleep with Jacob and she does – bearing him two sons. Leah wasn’t about to be outdone so she asks her servant Zilpah to do the same and bears two more sons for Jacob.
So he’s up to 8 sons now from three women. Rachel is accused by Leah of stealing her husband. And then Leah cuts a deal with Rachel to sleep with Jacob again in exchange for some mandrakes so she could eat. And God blesses that attempt and Leah bears Jacob two more sons and a daughter. So now he has 10 sons, and Rachel is still barren. “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb”. And a son is born – Joseph – and when that happens Jacob is ready to move on and find his “own home and country”. He asks Laban to “Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, that I may go, for you know the service that I have given you”.
Laban isn’t so sure about that request. He knows that life is very different since Jacob showed up. “Laban said to him, If I have found favor in your sight, I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you. Name your wages, and I will give it”. Laban doesn’t want to lose the source of his blessing. But Jacob knows he needs to focus on building his own wealth and creating a sustainable place for his family to grow. And He knows God has been with him. “For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned”.
So Jacob continues to pursue moving on. Laban asks what fair wages would be for what Jacob has done for him. Jacob says “let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats, and they shall be my wages”. So that is what they agree to, and Jacob sorts his lambs and goats off. And God continued to bless him – “the man increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys”. As a key part of God’s covenant to create a mighty nation, his success and creating a strong family was paramount.